Afghan Refugees’ Cultural Impact on Pakistan

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Afghan refugee Ashiqullah Jan teaches his children at his home in Peshawar. AFP.

World Refugee Day was observed on the 20th of June across Pakistan, and the globe, to remind the world that everyone can contribute to society and every action counts in the effort to create a  fair, inclusive, and equal world.

According to the latest report by the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), Pakistan was ranked as the 4th largest refugee host country in the world, hosting refugees for over four decades, mostly comprising Afghan refugees from the Soviet-Afghan War era.

The Afghan refugees in Pakistan currently stand at 1.5 million, mostly scattered across the urban and semi-urban areas of KPK, and in Karachi. There were once more than 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, but most have returned to Afghanistan via the repatriation efforts by both the governments.

Shazia Razi (second from left) and Abdul Razi (right) sit with their four children at a UNHCR voluntary repatriation center in Peshawar, Pakistan. They are making arrangements to return home to Afghanistan after decades in exile. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Keeping the negativity aside, the Afghan refugees have created a long-lasting impact on the Pakistani society and culture, specifically in KPK.

Iqra Khan, a Peshawar local, says she has recently arranged an Afghani frock for attending marriages and functions. She explains that most Afghans are Pakhtuns, and many of their cultural practices match with Pakistani Pakhtuns. She appreciates that the Afghani frock is now used by women all over the city.

Likewise, Professor Zafar Khan from the Sociology Department of the University of Peshawar says that Pakistani women like Afghan dresses and men also like Afghani Shalwar Qamis. He says that the use of Afghani cuisine like Afghani Pulao, Qahwa, and Pati Teeki is widespread in Pakistan.

He also says that several Afghan Pashto words have entered into the local jargon of Peshawer.

An Afghan shopkeeper displays a dress to customers in a Peshawer market. AFP.

‘My Afghan parents are buried in Pakistan’

Muhammad Saleem, a refugee who lives Peshawar, says that he works and owns a house in Peshawar, while his parents are also buried there, He further adds that he would never want to go back to Afghanistan.

Saleem says he is having a good time in Pakistan, and he has developed a lot of friendships. He laments that nothing is left for him in Afghanistan, and he doesn’t want to go there.

Many Afghans in Peshawer have similar feelings to those of Saleem. Most of them are second to third-generation refugees, who have never even once been to Afghanistan. For them, home is Pakistan, as the home is always where the heart is.

Most Afghan refugees are born in Pakistan and have never been to Afghanistan.

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